Southwest US in February -- where to go?
October 21, 2014 8:16 PM   Subscribe

We (my wife and I, that is) are tossing around the idea of a trip somewhere to the Southwest in February, when I get a week off from teaching and we'll need a week off from winter. Ideally with a mix of the outdoorsy and time spent in nice scenic towns with good (vegetarian-friendly) food, on a non-lavish budget. Never been anywhere in that part of the world. Where should we go and what should we see?

The Grand Canyon's a possibility, if it's viable at that time of year, but suggestions of less internationally-known destinations are most welcome.
posted by irrelephant to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Last year, we took a week and went to Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon (three nights, one night and two nights respectively, with one last night in Las Vegas just because we were flying out of there). It was in early April, so the weather was probably rather different than what you'd have, but it was heaven. Zion was probably our favorite--we stayed in Springdale which is the town right (as in easy walking distance) by the park and which had surprisingly good food options--but all of them were wonderful.
posted by pie_seven at 8:33 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite holidays ever was Big Sur, California in late January of 2013. From Ripplewood Resort, my SO booked an adorable cabin beside a little creek and we spent most of our days hiking the utterly gorgeous trails nearby. We did our own cooking for the most part, but we enjoyed Big Sur Bakery. The weather was perfect and it felt as if we had miles and miles to ourselves.

I'm not quite sure if it's what you're looking for -- but you should do a GIS for "Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park" before you nix the idea. I would go back in a heartbeat. This photo I took will be my desktop background for all eternity.
posted by aerofuturist dance at 8:58 PM on October 21, 2014

Best answer: Go to Tucson - it will be lovely in February and it's "Southwest" for real all over. Visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum for a fantastic introduction to the desert, stay at the Lodge In The Desert if you can afford it, take a side trip to Mexico if you want, get up early and drive or climb to Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains and watch the sun come up - or do it in the evening and watch the sun set - gorgeous. Saguaro National Monument is a nice drive, even Phoenix isn't far and it's more metro and has a flavor all its own. The Barrio in Tucson is full of the flavor you're looking for and there's outstanding Mexican food - not all of it too spicy to swallow - in great restaurants there.

The Grand Canyon in February is bitter cold, windy and snowy - there isn't a worse time of the year to visit there, although it's fantastic between May and September. Getting stuck in terrible snowstorms in February in Northern Arizona, the White Mountains of Arizona, in populated Utah, Colorado, Northern New Mexico is a real and often deadly situation. If you do decide to drive in any of those areas, be absolutely certain you read up on how to stay safe before you go.

Hope you have a great trip. And if you do decide on Tucson, don't miss the Desert Museum!
posted by aryma at 9:13 PM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

When I was roadtripping there in Feb a long time ago, the roads at Grand Canyon were actually closed due to snow. The Utah parks (Arches is among my favorite places on the planet) were fantastic, though. Bryce Canyon in the snow is very very pretty but still hikeable.
The deserts of southern AZ were interesting too, if you prefer a place less frosty. I can recommend Organ Pipe Cactus NM.
We camped, mostly, except in the mountains where it was too cold.
posted by gijsvs at 9:25 PM on October 21, 2014

Bryce & Zion are on my bucket list. Taos is also an artsy city.
posted by spock at 9:30 PM on October 21, 2014

Zion is doable, at least the low elevations, in February. The high elevation hikes are not. Bryce is really not great in winter.

I would recommend either staying more southerly, a la Guadalupe/Carlsbad Caverns, Saguaro, White Sands, and Organ Pipe Cactus. That, or Death Valley.
posted by notsnot at 9:39 PM on October 21, 2014

Tuscon hosts the biggest gem show in the world in February...the whole town is full of gem buyers and sellers. Cool but maybe not what you want? Everything from dinosaur fossils to diamonds, 100's of vendors.
posted by antiquated at 10:32 PM on October 21, 2014

Best answer: Taos & Santa Fe NM are wonderful in winter.
Do a Taos search (here's one) on mefi for great ideas.
Don't miss
- A bowl of chili at Plaza Cafe (SF).
- a dip at 10000 Waves spa (SF).
- Taos pueblo
posted by artdrectr at 11:48 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd consider visiting Arizona for sure. February is beautiful state-wide, though you won't be escaping the winter quite so much if you head to the northern half.

You could do a nice relaxing circuit in a week's time, either going north or south. Phoenix is a very convenient airport to fly in and out of. (Sidenote: it may be a lot cheaper to rent a car by booking one at a local car rental agency away from the airport, and eating the taxi fare to get you to the rental agency. You could save quite a bit on the whole.)

Heading North:
If you decide to drive north, it'll be cold, and it may be snowy if a storm system rolls through. But the scenery is beautiful. Prescott is a nice town with a lot of history and cute places to stay like The Motor Lodge, Sedona is incredibly beautiful (if you can put up with the hippies), Flagstaff is a great college town. The Grand Canyon will be cold (40s during the day) but you wouldn't have to deal with tourists. All told, the Canyon is only about 3-3 1/2 hours away from Phoenix, so it's really not that far, with Prescott, Sedona, and Flagstaff along the way.

Flagstaff: average highs in the 40s, lows in the 10s.
Prescott: 50s, 20s
Sedona: 60s, 30s
Grand Canyon: 40s, 20s (so yes, cold, to be sure... and maybe not much of a winter break for you).

Heading South:
Alternately, you could choose to join your Canadian brethren, who head to Phoenix and Tucson in large numbers that time of year. (We get lots of them, and lots of snowbirds and tourists from places like Minnesota that time of year). Lots of great museums like the Musical Instrument Museum and the Heard Museum, and outdoor activities like hiking Camelback or going to the Desert Botanical Garden. Plenty of fun bars and vegetarian-friendly foodie restaurants in the Arcadia, Old Town Scottsdale, and downtown Phoenix areas.

Tucson is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours away, and is a great place to visit. Though it does have some pretty rough areas, it also has some of the nicest neighborhoods in Arizona and the Southwest for that matter. Beautiful resorts. Plus, there's plenty to do. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is fantastic. Lots of great drives and hikes nearby, like Sabino Canyon or Mount Lemmon. Tons of great food around the University of Arizona and in the Barrio area, especially Arizona/Sonoran Mexican food, which is milder than New Mexico style but a lot less gringo than Tex-Mex. Organ Pipe is beautiful too, and you can also visit other central and southern Arizona small towns like Tombstone (although they can be touristy).

Phoenix: 70s, 40s-50s
Tucson: 60s, 40s
Tombstone and other towns near the border: 60s, 30s

Warning: January through March are prime season to be visiting Phoenix and Tucson so things are more expensive than in other nice times, like the fall. Super Bowl weekend (1/30-2/2) will be wild in Phoenix. Spring Training starts 3/5 and hotel and car rental prices go up again for the whole month of March. But if you're in the middle of February you'll find beautiful weather, and the desert (and mountains) are lovely.

Oh- and you could very easily combine some of the less wintery places on the North list (like Sedona) with some time on Phoenix and Tucson in one big trip. Or you could brave the cold and drive north to Flagstaff for one night, hit the Grand Canyon the next day, and then get back down to Phoenix and Tucson for the rest of the trip.

One more idea- I always recommend San Luis Obispo and the central coast of California for vacations... February might be a great time to visit. Everything I say here in this thread would certainly apply in terms of activities and relaxing things to do. Weather in the 60s during the day... spring is the "rainy" season so the coast gets a few inches of rain per month on average, but who knows with this ongoing drought! You'd generally find mild weather overall.
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:14 AM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We went on a southwestern vacation in May of this year, and still managed to get cold and wet at the Grand Canyon. As Phoenix was the most southerly place we went, some of what we looked at would probably be equally unsuitable for February, but I would strongly suggest you consider Death Valley. That was one of the most starkly beautiful (and literally "awesome", for me anyway) places that I've ever visited, but even in May it was uncomfortably hot during the day. The national park area is large and you can easily spend several days there and not get bored.

One of the most uncanny experiences I've had was being at one of the more remote landmarks in the valley on an overcast, moonless night. I've been in very "quiet" natural places before, but never one that was so barren that there was literally zero background noise. That plus the darkness and I may as well have been at the end of the universe. It creeped my wife out but I loved it.

Also memorable was wandering through the mesquite dunes at 11pm by myself as my wife stayed back trying to prove to our 4 year old that desert sand is not good for making a sand castle. I stored a GPS waypoint for safety's sake and just wandered. After cresting only three dunes or so I was far enough into an alien landscape, this time with enough shadows being cast by the moon that every scrub brush and wrinkle in the land became a shadowy mystery, that I *did* creep myself out. I could easily picture what it would be like to be truly lost and helpless in a place like that.

Anyway, yeah. Death Valley. Loved it and want to go back.

(Boy is it in fuck-all middle of nowhere though)
posted by jammer at 4:58 AM on October 22, 2014

If you golf, Palm Springs is pretty awesome.
posted by OkTwigs at 6:25 AM on October 22, 2014

FYI In New England (and I am guessing other parts of the US) has "February vacation". It's the week of Presidents Day. Prices might be up and availability might be down that week.
posted by beccaj at 7:20 AM on October 22, 2014

Look into the Big Bend area of Texas. Positives are that it is beautiful, rugged, and big. There is a variety of hiking and sightseeing to suit your abilities and interests. You can get away from the other people when you wish, just by going to less traveled areas of the park. There are towns in the area with various services and interesting things to see.

On the other hand, it is a long way from the nearest airports. There is significant driving to get places. Spring may be just around the corner, or winter might still be in force in February.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2014

Best answer: I recommend New Mexico. If you've never been, you're missing a jewel of a state.

Fly to Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive north to Santa Fe and Taos. Take the High road on your way up and the Low road back, stop at the little dusty towns and art galleries on the way, enjoy the utterly awesome art galleries and cutting edge food scene at Santa Fe, enjoy some glorious hikes. Pack sunscreen for the high altitude sunshine, and consider your art budget carefully in advance.

If you've had your fill, drive back to ABQ and go south to White Sands. Bring a camera with a polarizing filter, and good sunglasses. Stop for the petroglyphs at Three Rivers, maybe visit the UFO museum at Roswell if you want to believe. If you want to see a modern marvel of science, drive to the Very Large Array out west from Socorro.

At Socorro you're not far from the Bosque del Apache Wildlife refuge, where the migratory birds are still wintering over in February. Maybe the rare Siberian cranes showed up again?

And don't miss the sights and tastes of Albuquerque itself, with the retro-futuristic flourishes everywhere. Drive up the Sandia mountains, take a leisurely hike, enjoy the views and the gorgeous sunset. Stock up on the green chile that you're no doubt addicted to before you fly back out.

Or, yes, Tuscon is lovely too as long as you don't mind driving in Arizona and your skin is not the wrong color and you have the right papers on you at all times outside the urban areas.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just rememberred that in Tucson in February (Feb 21-Mar 1, 2015) they have the Fiesta de los Vaqueros going also - big rodeo at the fairgrounds and other Western activities, but best of all the Rodeo Parade - the largest non-motorized parade in the country (which means a lot of horses and riding groups and great dancing and demonstrations by many Indian groups). You might Google for images of the Fiesta de los Vaqueros and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

As for the comment just before this one, I can't really say. I'm ashamed of what happened to my state over the years and I honestly don't know if an average traveler (white, anyway) would have any difficulty. The "driving in Arizona" I don't get because I've found driving all over Arizona smooth and easy, but again I'm white. I lived there for 31 years and loved it, but I've been living elsewhere for so long, going back only for visits. Why Jan Brewer thinks there shouldn't be any Mexicans living in Arizona is beyond me, but she claims to have police backup and that's more than disturbing.

Anyway, February is perhaps the best month of all in Tucson.
posted by aryma at 3:05 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend both Tucson and Phoenix in February. You won't regret it (however, I think you will regret Lodge on the Desert in Tucson, as my SO and I did when we spent a few days there last Christmas. Dozens of other better-maintained resorts in the city.)
posted by nubianinthedesert at 6:50 PM on October 22, 2014

Re Taos:
Just wanted to add that we've stayed at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house.
The art, history, and beauty here is amazing. Book a room if you can.
posted by artdrectr at 8:39 PM on October 22, 2014

Best answer: You only have a week. I suggest Sedona, Arizona. There are many expensive resorts, but plenty of more reasonably priced motels. It's in a beautiful setting, it's amusing, and vegetarian-friendly it is .... actually vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, shade-grown, fair trade describes it.

Not sure where you live, but remember: distances in the Southwest are significantly different than distances in New England. It takes a LOT longer to get from here to there in the West. (If you're from Montana, you'll know what I mean.)
posted by kestralwing at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2014

Response by poster: These are great possibilities -- thanks, all!
posted by irrelephant at 1:57 PM on October 23, 2014

Response by poster: Looks like we're probably not going to be able to go for money reasons, but I'm hanging onto this thread for next year. Thanks, all!
posted by irrelephant at 1:39 PM on November 21, 2014

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